Birthday Burnings and Pleas for Mercy

Josh and Me (2)


You would have turned 37 today. Mom and I may not have necessarily enjoyed the pleasure of your company this very day. You would likely have pulled a double at the restaurant. But we would have caught up with you on your day off, maybe even watched the Super Bowl this Sunday, played perhaps with properly inflated balls.

I would grill you a ribeye, medium rare, just as you liked it. Mom would have baked you one of those killer “Black Magic” cakes – a Heff birthday tradition. We would have sipped a Zin brought by you purchased inevitably above my pastoral price point. And the preacher in Ecclesiastes 2:24-25 would have smiled upon us: “There is nothing better for a person than he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God, for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment?”

But you are gone. I miss you.



Those horrible words sink in yet another heart-stabbingly relentless time. Just when I thought I survived January 18, the 28th brings another of grief”s battering waves.

Once again, where does a grieving father turn? He goes to His father above. And He never disappoints.

There this miserable-memory morning I read these words from another familiar-with-suffering servant:

Job gives utterance to a mood which is not foreign to us when he says, “Am I a sea, or a whale, that You set a guard over me?” In certain moods of anguish the human heart says to God, “I wish You would leave me alone; why should I be used for things which have no appeal to me?” In the Christian life we are not being used for our own designs at all, but for the fulfillment of the prayer of Jesus Christ. He has prayed that we baffled-to-fight-bettermight be “one with Him as He is one with the Father”; consequently God is concerned only about that one thing, and He never says “By your leave.” Whether we like it or not, God will burn us in His fire until we are as pure as He is, and it is during the process that we cry, as Job did, “I wish You would leave me alone.” God is the only Being who can afford to be misunderstood; we cannot, Job could not, but God can. If we are misunderstood we “get about” the man as soon as we can. St. Augustine prayed, “O Lord, deliver me from this lust of always vindicating myself.” God never vindicates Himself, He deliberately stands aside and lets all sorts of slanders heap on Him, yet He is not in any hurry. We have the idea that prosperity, or happiness, or morality, is the end of a man’s existence; according to the Bible it is something else, “to glorify God and enjoy Him for ever.” When a man is right with God, God puts His honor in that man’s keeping. Job was one of those in whom God staked His honor, and it was during the process of His inexplicable ways that Job makes his appeal for mercy, and yet all through there comes out his implicit confidence in God. “And blessed is he, who is not offended because of Me,” said Our Lord (Oswald Chambers, Baffled to Fight Better: Job and the Problem of Suffering, Discovery House, 1990, p. 41-42, emphasis added).

I’m not a 21st century Job. Not even close. But I do need mercy. Thus I appeal.

Sovereign God, if I belong to that privileged company “Guardians of Your Honor,” and I believe I do, only by grace, then burn away as You please. But have mercy on me for I am but a sinful, grieving man dealing with this birthday’s burnings. I admit it. I sometimes wish you would leave me alone. But not so much that I entertain offense at my Savior and abandon my implicit confidence in You.

Something I’ll Never Say Again


Never say never. We all know the proverb. I, for one, hereby defy conventional wisdom. I will never say something again as long as I live.

“I can’t imagine anything harder.”

Why? Because every time I do something new comes down the pike that redefines hardness for me.

I said it when I broke free from the authority-cult like church I belonged to as a young follower of Jesus.

Then I had to quit my first church pastoral assignment due to chronic fatigue. That was harder. Couldn’t imagine anything more difficult. Wrong.

For reasons far too complicated to unpack, I resigned from the only church plant I ever founded back in 1998. We left Central Florida for Idaho. No way anything would be tougher than that. Guess again.

Head and neck cancer in 2005. Surgery, radiation, chemo. May I quote my medical oncologist? “We sent you to hell and back to save your life.” Indeed they did. What a miserable year. Hard, harder, hardest. Uh, not so fast.

“Josh is dead.” Six days from now will mark the one year anniversary of our great loss. Every day lately I find myself thinking something like this: one year ago today my son had a week left to live, ___________ days. It’s excruciating counting down the days to remembering the worst possible news. Or was it?

My bride with ovarian cancer. You’re kidding? It’s not possible. I don’t believe is. Oh, yes it it. You’d better believe it.

I give in. This is easily the hardest yet. Hardness to the nth degree. Uncle. I give in. I’ll never say it again. I don’t even want to imagine something harder than this baffling turn of events.

Alright, now that I’ve vented my lament, what is this man, husband, father, pastor, follower of Jesus to do? I have only one answer. It has always been the answer and it will forever remain the answer by God’s grace.

“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1).

How grateful I am today to have come across this Puritan prayer entitled simply “Refuge.” It corrals my runaway thoughts and emotions to send them heavenward:

O Lord, Whose power is infinite and wisdom infallible, order things that they may neither hinder, nor discourage me, nor prove obstacles to the progress of Your cause. Stand between me and all strife, that no evil befall, no sin corrupt my gifts, zeal, attainments. May I follow duty and not any foolish devicegod-is-my-refuge of my own. Permit me not to labour at work which You will not bless, that I may serve You without disgrace or debt. Let me dwell in Your most secret place under Your shadow, where is safe impenetrable protection from the arrow that flies by day, the pestilence that walks in darkness, the strife of tongues, the malice of ill-will, the hurt of unkind talk, the snares of company, the perils of youth, the temptations of middle life, the mournings of old age, the fear of death. I am entirely dependent upon You for support, counsel, consolation. Uphold me by Your free Spirit, and may I not think it enough to be preserved from falling, but may I always go forward, always abounding in the work You give me to do. Strengthen me by Your Spirit in my inner self for every purpose of my Christian life. All my jewels I give to the shadow of the safety that is in You—my name anew in Christ, my body, soul, talents, character, my success, wife, children, friends, work, my present, my future, my end. Take them, they are Yours, and I am Yours, now and for ever.

Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.

Resting on God

Josh Wedding

One month ago today my beloved firstborn, Josh, breathed his last.

Our lives have changed forever. Bereavement leave has come to an end. I’m back to my second week of work doing what God has called me to do. Each day differs. Some days I feel more productive than others. Mostly I feel like I just get by with the best I can do with the things that matter most. Support abounds. Comfort flows. Grief throbs. Grace suffices.

In all of the new normal, whatever that is, nothing better describes how I’m pressing through the Titanic ache in my soul than this Puritan prayer of old, from the Valley of Vision, entitled “Resting on God.”

O God, most high, most glorious, the thought of Thine infinite serenity cheers me, for I am toiling and moiling, troubled and distressed, but Thou art for ever at perfect peace. Thy designs cause thee no fear or care of unfulfilment, they stand fast as the eternal hills. Thy power knows no bond, Thy goodness no stint. Thou bringest order out of confusion, and my defeats are Thy victories: The Lord God omnipotent reigneth.

I come to Thee as a sinner with cares and sorrows, to leave every concern entirely to Thee, every sin calling for Christ’s precious blood; revive deep spirituality in my heart; let me live near to the great Shepherd, hear His voice, know its tones, follow its calls. Keep me from deception by causing me to abide in the truth, from harm by helping me to walk in the power of the Spirit. Give me intenser faith in the eternal verities, burning into me by experience the things I know; Let me never be ashamed of the truth of the gospel, that I may bear its reproach, vindicate it, see Jesus as its essence, know in it the power of the Spirit.

Lord, help me, for I am often lukewarm and chill; unbelief mars my confidence, sin makes me forget Thee. Let the weeds that grow in my soul be cut at their roots; grant me to know that I truly live only when I live to Thee, that all else is trifling. Thy presence alone can make me holy, devout, strong and happy. Abide in me, gracious God.

Fearful or Faithful?

faith fear

If I can help it, I rarely miss corporate worship on Sunday mornings. And not just because I pastor for a living. I’ve experienced more times than I can recount the reality of Psalm 63:2 – So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory. God shows up stunningly more than not in the gatherings of His people for praise and community in ways He does not show up in private.

We experienced that this past Sunday at OGC. I preached a message called “The Tale of Two Trials” from John 18:12-27. You can listen to the audio here. John shows the flawless faithfulness of Jesus in the face of malice and betrayal. He remains faithful where the high priest proves malicious and Peter proves faithless. Rightly understood, the contrast in the text can take the breath away.

I led off with an illustration of a young Marine injured in the base bombing in October of 1983 in Beirut, Lebanon. It included reciting the corps’ motto – semper fi – always faithful.


Following the message, our lead worshipper, one of them more faithful men I’ve had the privilege of knowing, shared spontaneously prior to taking us into the final song. One of his sons is a Marine. Before long our country will deploy that young man to Afghanistan for a second time. Steve shared how he often gets asked how he deals with the anxiety related to his son’s service in harm’s way. He always says the same thing. “I believe God is sovereign. I could choose to be fearful. But because God is faithful, I choose to be faithful as well.”

You could feel the weight of the Spirit fall on our people. We beheld Him in His power and glory.

What’s the difference between living fearfully or faithfully? Steve got it right. It comes down to confidence in the sovereignty of God over all things and that He is never anything less than faithful. One of the best biblical examples I can cite for this comes from Acts 18:1-11.

After this Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. 2 And he found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to leave Rome. And he went to see them, 3 and because he was of the same trade he stayed with them and worked, for they were tentmakers by do-not-be-afraidtrade. 4 And he reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and tried to persuade Jews and Greeks. 5 When Silas and Timothy arrived from Macedonia, Paul was occupied with the word, testifying to the Jews that the Christ was Jesus.6 And when they opposed and reviled him, he shook out his garments and said to them, “Your blood be on your own heads! I am innocent. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.” 7 And he left there and went to the house of a man named Titius Justus, a worshiper of God. His house was next door to the synagogue. 8 Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believed in the Lord, together with his entire household. And many of the Corinthians hearing Paul believed and were baptized. 9 And the Lord said to Paul one night in a vision, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, 10 for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people.” 11 And he stayed a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them.

I love v. 9. “Do not be afraid,” the Lord tells Paul. I rarely think of the apostle Paul as experiencing fear issues, but apparently the circumstances in Corinth unnerved him. The Lord needed to administer a booster shot of courage. How did He do that? He assured Paul that in His sovereign plan He had yet many more elect who would come to Christ and nothing would prevent that from happening. That confidence put eighteen more months of fuel for service in Paul’s missionary tank.

What challenges do you face on the family front, the ministry front, the vocational front, on whatever front? You can choose to live fearful in the face of those things or you can choose to live faithful. It comes down to whom you think controls all things and whether or not you can trust the Lord’s great faithfulness. You bet your life you can. He is always faithful.

What Are We Waiting For?

Everywhere I turn, it seems, I encounter someone in wait mode.

Singles waiting for a suitable mate to come along.

Sick folks waiting for a sure cure for their illness.

Estranged couples waiting for a reconciliation of their marriage.

Parents waiting for a wandering prodigal to come home.

Unemployed or underemployed workers waiting for a job.

Students waiting for funding for their education.

Children waiting for favor with their parents.

Missionaries waiting for their support to come in.

And yes, even churches waiting for their buildings to get a CO.

And no, at this writing, we don’t have it yet. Sigh.

I am fond of saying, Waiting is one of God’s favorite four-letter words. It’s true. God makes us wait. A lot. When He does, the temptation remains the same. Like the Jews of old in the Babylonian Captivity we question that our way is hidden from His sight and that our concern is none of His concern (Isa. 40:27).

The prophet had nothing but rebuke for that kind of thinking in the rest of chapter 40. He took them to task for such unbelief in the midst of their wondering if they would ever return to the beloved Promised Land. He did so by reminding them of what they had heard and knew about the character of God.

Everlasting. Creator. Unsearchable.

We may grow faint or weary, but this God never does. Better yet, He dispenses His extraordinary power that hangs the stars in the sky, calls them by name, and sees to their keeping (Isa. 40:26) to the faint and weary and exhausted.

How? By waiting. Not waiting for a change in circumstances. Waiting on Him. Verse 31 is key – But those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength. The Hebrew word for wait comes from a root which means string or cord. The verb form has the idea of twist. The imagery is helpful. To wait on the Lord is to bring our slender strand of strength to Him in prayer, meditation, hope, and worship and have Him wrap His creative, unsearchable, everlasting omnipotence around it so that we are strengthened. To renew means to exchange. We exchange our meager strength for God’s unlimited strength. Matthew Henry, the Puritan commentator explains:

But those that wait on the Lord, who make conscience of their duty to him, and by faith rely upon him and commit themselves to his guidance, shall find that God will not fail them. . . .  They shall have grace sufficient for them: They shall renew their strength as their work is renewed, as there is new occasion; they shall be anointed, and their lamps supplied, with fresh oil. God will be their arm every morning, ch.33:2.
The imagery of this strength and its impact in v. 31 takes the breath away. Mounting up with wings as an eagle. Running and not being weary. Walking and not fainting. From the most spectacular of feats of mounting up to the most mundane of tasks of walking and everything in between, God meets us and give us His strength.
Warren Wiersbe, in his commentary on Isaiah, summed up well the progression from flying to walking:
As we wait before Him, God enables us to soar when there is a crisis, to run when the challenges are many, and to walk faithfully in the day-by-day demands of life. It is much harder to walk in the ordinary pressures of life than to fly like the eagle in a time of crisis. “I can plod,” said William Carey, the father of modern missions. “That is my only genius. I can persevere in any definite pursuit. To this I owe everything.” The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. The greatest heroes of faith are not always those who seem to be soaring; often it is they who are patiently plodding. As we wait on the Lord, He enables us not only to fly higher and run faster, but also to walk longer. Blessed are the plodders, for they eventually arrive at their destination!
So the question stands. What are we waiting for? If it is for a change in circumstances, that may or may not come. If it is for an exchange of strength with the God of the universe, that you can count on.
So wait, wait on the Lord and renew your strength.

C O Wherefore Art Thou?

I am really looking forward to our church getting one of these from the City of Altamonte at some point in the near future.

Our fearless building committee chairman gave me the skinny today about where things stand after almost another full week of trying to dot every “I'” and cross every “T” on our site to the pleasure and approval of our government inspectors.

The good news is that we are really close to finishing the building proper. We expect to have the handrails go in tomorrow. Hopefully first thing next week we will schedule another inspection on the facility and we pass. If and when that happens, then Ross plans to go to the city for that conversation with the powers that be that he talked about last Sunday. He will petition them for a provisional C O that would allow us to occupy our building while we finish up items on our site.

Speaking of the site, the man holes have been adjusted. They need to be surveyed and inspected. We thought that was all we needed to do in the way of finishing up outside.

However, yesterday the Seminole County inspector came back for another pass on the property and brought some friends with him. The list suddenly got longer. Apparently we have some sidewalk to tear up and re-position. And a portion of our entry drive needs to get taken out and regraded and paved again. How long will that take, you ask? Good question, but if we don’t get that provisional C O we are likely looking at the end of the month before we finally get into our new facility.

Sigh. Double sigh. Triple sigh.

How many cliches can I quote you. It is what it is. Good things come to those who wait. Murphy’s law. If we didn’t have bad luck we wouldn’t have any luck at all. That’s probably not the best thing for somebody with my theology to say.

Think I would rather stick with the Scripture in Proverbs 21:1.

The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; he turns it wherever he will.

Just substitute inspector for king and you will get the picture.

As for me and my house, we will wait upon the Lord and renew our strength (Isa. 40:31).

How about yours?

So Good & Yet So Hard

I refer to the discipline of waiting on God.

I don’t have to tell you how excruciatingly difficult it is. I often remind people, “Wait is a four-letter word.”

But God’s word assures us though hard it is good. Consider Lamentations 3:26: It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD.

Note the modifier on what kind of waiting counts as good – quietly. Fussing and fuming while we wait doesn’t cut it.

Octavius Winslow, wise man of old, said it well:

The Lord would now often have us wait His time in answering prayer. And, if the vision tarry, still let us wait, and hope, and expect. Let the delay but stimulate hope, and increase desire, exercise faith, and multiply petitions at the mercy-seat. It will come when the Lord sees best. A believer may lose the answer to his prayer, by dictating to the Lord the mode, as well as the time, of answering. The Lord has His own mode of blessing His people. We may prescribe the way the Lord should answer, but He may send the blessing to us through an opposite channel, in a way we never thought of, and should never have selected. Sovereignty sits regent upon the throne, and in no aspect is its exercise more manifestly seen than in selecting the way and the means by which the prayers of the saints of God are answered. Dictate not to the Lord. If you ask a blessing through a certain channel, or in a prescribed way, let it be with the deepest humility of mind, and with perfect submission to the will of God. Be satisfied to receive the blessing in any way which a good and covenant God may appoint. Be assured, it will be in that way that will most glorify Himself, and secure to you the greatest amount of blessing.

Does God have you in wait mode over something, several things during this season of your walk with Him?

Remember. It’s good to wait quietly for His salvation. Beware trying to manufacture a salvation of your own.

The Message of the Mountains

My through-the-Bible-in-a year reading plan brought me to Psalm 125 the other day.

A Song of Ascents.

Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion,
which cannot be moved, but abides forever.
2 As the mountains surround Jerusalem,
so the Lord surrounds his people,
from this time forth and forevermore.
3 For the scepter of wickedness shall not rest
on the land allotted to the righteous,
lest the righteous stretch out
their hands to do wrong.
4 Do good, O Lord, to those who are good,
and to those who are upright in their hearts!
5 But those who turn aside to their crooked ways
the Lord will lead away with evildoers!
Peace be upon Israel!

The Clearwater Mountains don’t exactly surround our place in Idaho, but they stretch across the eastern horizon easily viewed from our home.

I couldn’t help but stop and ponder these verses especially during our time out west.

The imagery of the first two verses would have struck the Israelites all the more forcefully.  Jerusalem sets upon one of seven hills in the region. The other six mountains surround it on every side. That made the ancient city a nearly impregnable fortress.

As a song of ascents, the Jews would sing this as they journeyed to the holy city for the various feasts. This psalm reminded them of a most important message, a message of the mountains.

Those who trust in Yahweh are like Mt. Zion that cannot be moved, but abides forever.

Because the covenant keeping, faithful God of Israel surrounds His people like the mountains around Jerusalem they remain unshaken in their confidence in Him no matter what providence may bring into their circumstances. They are perpetually, as Psalm 112:7 says, not afraid of bad news; his heart is firm, trusting in the Lord.

Matthew Henry, the Puritan commentator noticed two things about this security afforded to those who trust in Yahweh:

Observe, (1.) The compass of it: The Lord is round about his people on every side. There is no gap in the hedge of protection which he makes round about his people, at which the enemy, who goes about them, seeking to do them a mischief, can find entrance, Job 1:10. (2.) The continuance of it—henceforth even forever. Mountains may moulder and come to nought, and rocks be removed out of their place (Job 14:18), but God’s covenant with his people cannot be broken (Isa. 54:10) nor his care of them cease.

Do you trust in Yahweh, through His beloved Son the Lord Jesus Christ? Then you have access to a security and confidence as formidable as the mountains that surround Jerusalem.

The worst of news cannot ultimately unnerve you – not a cancer diagnosis, not a job pink slip, not a stock market crash, not a change in political administration, not a clash of global enemies, not a fall of some brother or sister into sin, nothing, absolutely nothing, not now or ever, can move the one who casts himself wholeheartedly on the sovereign God who surrounds His people like the mountains surround Jerusalem.